Journalists’ Syndicate Protests in Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, state media employees are dissatisfied with their working conditions and the censorship they reportedly face. The Autonomous Syndicate of Information and Culture Workers (SYNATIC) organized demonstrations on July 16 in Ouagadougou (French), the political capital, and Bobo-Dioulasso (French), a major economic center. In Ouagadougou, the journalists staged a sit-in by the Ministry of Communications, and in Bobo-Dioulasso they rallied in front of the regional government building.

From the blog of the Committee to Protect Journalists, which adds that the Association of Journalists of Burkina helped organize the sit-ins:

It was the first time that journalists from state-run media have publicly broken their collective silence over what the public has long believed to be entrenched practices of editorial direction and control by official censors. The show of discontent was the latest in a series of recent demonstrations by various segments of society opposing government policies and protesting the standard of living, according to news reports.

The government tried to dismiss accusations of tampering with news coverage after the sit-in was announced. “I have never given directives to anybody,” Communications Minister and Government Spokesman Alain Edouard Traoré declared at a press conference on Monday, according to RTB. He said the station “operates in total independence” from his office. “We do not constitute a ministry of propaganda,” private news site Burkina 24 quoted him as saying.

During the first half of 2011, Burkina Faso experienced waves of protests and mutinies that drew serious concern from the government of President Blaise Compaore. The current protests have not yet reached nearly the same level of seriousness. Yet when journalists protest in Burkina Faso, it is worth paying attention. For one thing, the assassination of the journalist Norbert Zongo in 1998 continues to cast a shadow over relations between the state, the press, and the people. Protests against censorship, in other words, speak to broader tensions in the country.

Burkina Faso: After “Coupled Elections,” A Shifting Political Landscape

On December 2, Burkina Faso held “coupled” legislative and municipal elections. Legislative results can be found here, and municipal results here (.pdf, French). In the legislative elections, the ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) won 70 of 127 seats in the National Assembly, a slight decline from when it won 73 of 111 seats in the last elections in 2007. The new president of the National Assembly is outgoing cabinet minister and current CDP member Soungalo Ouattara.

Two parties tied for second place with 19 seats respectively. The Alliance for Democracy and Federation-African Democratic Rally (ADF-RDA, whose French-language website can be found here), which supported President Blaise Compaoré in the 2005 and 2010 presidential elections, increased its total seats in parliament by five. The absence of the ADF-RDA (French, includes a list of cabinet members) in Prime Minister Luc Adolphe Tiao’s new government, whose formation was announced around the new year, has generated some discussion in the Burkinabé press (French). The other party, the Union for Progress and Change, is new, having been created in 2010 (French). RFI (French) calls its leader, Zéphirin Diabré, “the new head of the Burkinabé opposition.” According to Jeune Afrique (French), the president’s camp controls 97 seats (this tally must include ADF-RDA), while Diabré’s controls 30.

Turning briefly to the local elections, the Burkinabé press has two notable stories about conflicts playing out in different localities: a tense-sounding wait for revised results in certain quarters of the economic capital Bobo-Dioulasso (French), and a struggle between two conflicting versions of the official results in the rural commune of Tema Bokin (French).

Finally, this editorial (French) contains some interesting musings on the coupled elections as a “crucial step before the presidential election of 2015″ and on their results as evidencing not so much “change,” but rather “renewal.” The author writes, “The national political chessboard is indeed being completely rearranged, between announced divorces and assumed reconciliations…”

Quick Notes on Elections in Somaliland and Burkina Faso

Two major elections took place recently within this blog’s zone of coverage. On November 28, Somaliland held municipal elections. On December 2, Burkina Faso held parliamentary and municipal elections.

Somaliland

Initial international commentary on the elections in Somaliland has largely focused on assessing the integrity of the process. You can read the preliminary report from an international election observation mission here. An excerpt:

With a fuller team assessment to come in early December, preliminary indications suggest that, despite some reports of violence, and no voting taking place in some disputed districts in the country’s east, Somaliland’s electorate has, once again,turned out with enthusiasm and in large numbers.

Particularly heartening has been wide participation by female voters, a boost in numbers of female candidates and, thanks to the lowering of the qualifying age, youthful candidates standing in significant numbers. However, at this interim stage, a few concerns have emerged, including, once again, apparent attempts at underage and multiple voting.

Observers have also reported excessive use of force by security forces outside polling stations in some areas; some poor organisation surrounding the electoral process, including delayed opening of polling stations; insufficient electoral materials; and technical problems with voter safeguards, such as the ink designed to prevent multiple voting.

Aaron Pangburn has more on various concerns about the elections. He also lays out how the outcome of these elections will affect the political arena going forward:

The new electoral law passed in 2011, allows for officially registered political associations to challenge Somaliland’s three legal political parties (President Silanyo’s KULMIYE, UCID and UDUB) in municipal elections. Five new associations (UMADDA, DALSAN, RAYS, WADANI and HAQSOOR) met the registration requirements and were approved by the RAC.

In order to become an official party, the law initially requires a minimum of 20% in each of Somaliland’s six regions. The system limits their populations’ choices to three political parties to ensure broad based policy platforms, and to avoid previous tendency of narrow clan-based coalitions. The campaign was particularly vibrant and regulated, with each party adopting a different color and symbol to bring their supporters together, but with a structured schedule for the party rallies.

Pangburn also comments, significantly, that “unfortunately for the people of Somaliland a transparent and mostly peaceful process will not drastically redefine their standing in the international community. Rather, it will be how they manage their external relationships with Somalia and their regional neighbors that will have the greatest effect on their pending application for statehood.”

Burkina Faso

International coverage of the “coupled” parliamentary and municipal elections in Burkina Faso has focused on several interlinked themes. Commentary has focused largely on assessing the prospects for the stability of the regime of President Blaise Compaore. Recurring themes in coverage include:

  • Noting that these elections follow the protests and mutinies of spring/summer 2011 (see AP and AFP);
  • Assessing the integrity of the vote, especially the performance of the National Independent Electoral Commission, which was reformed after the protests (see VOA);
  • Speculating that if the ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress wins a “decisive” majority, it could seek to undo term limits on Compaore’s tenure as president (see Reuters).

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Results are expected by December 7 in Burkina Faso (French), and soon (though I have not seen a specific date) in Somaliland.

What do you see as the significance of these elections?

Burkina Faso: Parliamentary Elections Twelve Days from Now

On December 2, Burkina Faso will hold elections for seats in its 111-member National Assembly, along with elections for local government positions. Parliamentary elections take place every five years, and the previous election occurred in May 2007. Presidential elections also take place every five years, but on a different track – the last presidential vote happened in 2010, when President Blaise Compaore was re-elected for the fourth time. The President’s party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP, whose official website is in French here), currently controls 73 seats in the National Assembly.

Here are several resources you can consult for information on the upcoming vote and Burkina Faso’s political landscape:

  • The Assembly’s official website and a list of members elected in 2007 (both pages are in French);
  • The Assembly’s Wikipedia page;
  • The website (French) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI). Here, you can read about the reformulation of CENI in July 2011 in the wake of several months of protests and mutinies in Burkina Faso. You can find more on the reformed CENI and its new president, Barthélémy Kéré, here (French);
  • The International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ overview of elections in Burkina Faso;
  • and Freedom House’s 2011 “Countries at the Crossroads” report on Burkina Faso.

Given the paucity of news sites that focus on Burkina Faso, it is difficult for me to get a sense of the campaign from a distance. This article (French) reports on the campaign of a relatively new party, the Union for Progress and Change, to win the mayor’s seat in Tenkodogo (map) as well as legislative seats in the surrounding province. This article (French), meanwhile, reports on the Socialist Party’s campaign.

As the ruling CDP, under its National Security Assimi Kouanda, mobilizes its partisans for the elections (French), it seems likely – given President Compaore’s dominance and the substantial majority the Party enjoys – that they will hold the majority. Yet the election bears watching as the first contest held under the new CENI, the first vote since the crisis of spring 2011, and one possible indication of the country’s political trajectory as we look toward the 2015 presidential election.

Mali and Multi-Level Negotiations

On November 6, two meetings – one in Ouagadougou, one in Bamako – brought developments that could portend changes for the situation in Mali. If taken at face value (and there are reasons to do so), the results of these meetings point toward two very different paths the crisis in northern Mali could take. Those paths are negotiation or war. If the meetings themselves are viewed as gambits in a deeper, less explicit sort of negotiation, then they communicate something different about the positions of the key players who will shape the future of northern Mali.

The meeting in Ouagadougou was between representatives from the Islamist movement Ansar al Din, which controls part of northern Mali, and regional mediators led by Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore. Following talks on Tuesday, Ansar al Din’s delegation “agreed to commit to peace talks with Mali’s government and observe a ceasefire,” and also pledged to allow aid agencies into territory the movement controls. As AFP has reported, mediators have urged Ansar al Din to cut its ties to Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is part of Ansar al Din’s Islamist coalition in northern Mali, and Ansar al Din’s actions on that front could determine the viability of negotiations. While the delegates in Ouagadougou made no commitments regarding AQIM, they did stress their group’s “independent” nature, which AFP calls “a signal” of their potential willingness to abandon AQIM. As AFP notes in a separate article, Ansar al Din also has envoys in Algeria for talks.

Ansar al Din has offered to negotiate with authorities in Bamako before (French), but the movement’s demand for the country-wide application of shari’a seemed to make the idea a non-starter. Malian Foreign Minister Tiéman Coulibaly (French) has said that “the territorial integrity, secularism/laicite, and republican character of Mali are not negotiable.” Shari’a has, from what I have read, not come up yet in this round of talks, except perhaps through veiled references.

The Tuareg-led, ostensibly secular rebel group the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA, where “Azawad” refers to northern Mali) has a presence in Ouagadougou, and welcomed Ansar al Din’s willingness to negotiate.

In Bamako, meanwhile, military commanders from member states within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have developed a “military blueprint” for retaking northern Mali by force. The plan goes next to presidents from ECOWAS members, and then to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on November 26. On October 12, the UNSC “held out the possibility of endorsing, within the next 45 days, an international military force to restore the unity of the West African country.”

As AP notes, however, any military offensive in northern Mali is unlikely to happen before 2013. The deployment of troops may be contingent on the completion of new elections for a national Malian government – a process that will pose its own severe logistical difficulties.

So who is serious, and who is bluffing? Is everyone bluffing? And who speaks for whom?

If we take things at face value, Ansar al Din is ready to talk, and ECOWAS is ready to fight. Perhaps ECOWAS’ threats have scared Ansar al Din into coming to the negotiating table, and perhaps ECOWAS doubts Ansar al Din’s sincerity. ECOWAS leaders such as Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan have expressed their preference for talking rather than fighting. But perhaps ECOWAS’ leaders hold little hope that Ansar al Din will repudiate AQIM, or that talks will materialize, or that talks will get past Ansar al Din’s insistence on shari’a – and so ECOWAS continues to mobilize, or give the appearance of mobilizing.

One can read the whole process, then, as a form of negotiation. In this view, all parties expect the conflict to end at the negotiating table, not on the battlefield. And so ECOWAS mobilizes in order to strengthen its hand at the table, and Ansar al Din hints at future concessions while the Islamist coalition still makes sure to demonstrate its capacity to strike at “border” towns like Douentza, all more or less as a form of positioning. I’ve even heard the theory that the war as a whole started off as a bid for a strong negotiating position – ie, that the MNLA never expected matters to go this far, but rather hoped to win concessions from the new president of a post-Amadou Toumani Toure Mali.

Ansar al Din, of course, does not demand the break-up of Mali, but its (deeper) Islamization. Are the cooler heads in the Islamist coalition, then, looking toward a future, reunited Mali, and angling for a) a say in determining the role Islam plays in government at the national and local levels and b) continued political influence, official and unofficial, in northern Mali, even beyond religious affairs?

The danger with all the levels of negotiation taking place, or potentially taking place, is that the various sides may well misread each other’s signals, with the result that more blood is shed. Even if all sides proclaim a desire for peace and a willingness to talk, there are so many sticking points – shari’a, elections, etc. – that the conflict seems likely to endure for quite some time.

Africa News Roundup: Protests in Nigeria and Sudan, New PM in Ethiopia, Senate Scrapped in Senegal, and More

Following protests in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere this week, Muslims protested yesterday in Jos, Nigeria and Khartoum, Sudan against an inflammatory anti-Islamic video. The Chief Imam of Jos Central Mosque called for restraint and discouraged the turn to street protests.

Ethiopia is expected to name a new prime minister this weekend, to replace the late Meles Zenawi.

IRIN: “Kenya’s Deadly Mix of Frustration, Politics and Impunity”

Senegal’s National Assembly voted Thursday to disband the country’s Senate as a means of freeing up funds for flood relief.

Also in Senegal, a Gambian opposition group sets up shop.

Burkina Faso will hold legislative elections on December 2. The opposition (French) has written to President Blaise Compaore complaining that only 55% of voting-age citizens are registered to vote, and calling for a delay of the elections until 2013.

Leaders from the northern branch of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement were in Washington, DC this week, meeting with officials at the State Department.

What else is happening?

Africa Blog Roundup: Clinton in Africa, Oil in Uganda, Senegal and Habre, and More

Habiba Osman: “On Hillary Clinton’s Recent Visit to Africa.”

I am therefore not surprised that this African tour has come up now considering the diminishing role that the US is now finding itself in with the Chinese almost taking over as the biggest African donor and trade partner. Sub Saharan Africa, especially, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi in the South have felt the presence of the Chinese greatly with infrastructure being built everywhere in these countries, courtesy of the Chinese government.

Politically, Clinton’s visit is therefore timely as some of most African states have openly declared that they are in favour of the Chinese donations, which seem to have no strings attached. By strings, I mean, adherence to the rule of law, respect for human rights and observance of good governance. Africa’s relationship with China has gained international attention and is a sure factor in destabilising America’s role as the sole super power.

Tony Otoa Jr. on oil and civil society in Uganda.

Lesley Anne Warner: “Kenya’s Coast Province Could Be Flashpoint in Run-Up to Elections.”

Amb. John Campbell on recent violence at a South African platinum mine.

Peter Dorrie on President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso:

To adequately judge Blaise Compaoré’s record of bringing development and prosperity to his people, it is first of all important to remind oneself that he has been in power since 1987, a full quarter of a century. More than half the population of his country has only known his rule.

Despite the period of peace that Burkina experienced during this time, and a comparatively generous 13 Billion US Dollars in international development assistance, the country still ranks only 181st out of 187 countries in terms of human development. All of the other bottom ten countries in the HDI ranking experienced devastating civil wars during this time – except Guinea, which instead had to put up with a brutal military dictatorship. To put it bluntly: Blaise Compaoré is the only African head of state who managed to dramatically limit the development of his country without declaring outright war on it.

Jason Stearns asks, “When Will Donors Un-Freeze Aid to Rwanda?”

Writing in Nigeria’s Daily Trust, Idang Alibi comes out against Senegal’s planned trial for former Chadian leader Hissene Habre.

Anne Campbell weighs in on the issue of African presidents and overseas educations.

Baobab on electricity in Somalia.

Last but not least, a reflection from Carmen McCain on fasting during Ramadan as a non-Muslim.